Oops. I Think I Broke My Dichotomy....
Posted: On WitchVox October 15th. 2006
There've been a lot of essays as of late about sex and gender politics in the pagan community. I think this is an excellent thing. We need to think about these ideas, and why some people feel marginalized while others don't.
However, over and over and over again, I see references to nothing but "male" and "female", "man" and "woman", "Goddess" and "God". Oh, for sure, the vast majority of pagans identify as either male or female. Most of them are cisgendered--that is to say, they identify with whatever their physical sex happens to be.
Allow me to make a quick interjection here. "Sex" and "gender" are NOT interchangable. "Sex" refers to the physical sex of the body--what's between the legs. "Gender" is where you are along the continuum between masculine and feminine--it's between your ears, as well as in the clothes you wear, and all the secondary characteristics that aren't necessarily the same as your sex.
Following me so far? Good.
Now, one thing that I keep seeing over and over again are references to heterosexual couplings--God/Goddess pairings, and one rather infuriating (to me, anyway) remark that the epitome of a woman's life is to have the baby of the man she luuuuuuvs. That's fine--if you happen to be heterosexual, or bisexual/pansexual, or queer, and want to have children with someone in the traditional manner. But what if you're entirely gay or lesbian with nary a thought of the opposite sex in your mind? Or what if you don't want children? There's no way you're going to be even remotely interested in making babies the traditional way. In addition, some peope can't have children--does that mean they're deficient?
This is why there are radical Dianic covens--for women who aren't interested in the God. Men shouldn't take it as a threat to their masculinity that some women just aren't interested in their--ahem--apparatus. And, in the same way, the rarer but no less important pagan ways of gay men should not be seen as threatening to women. Some people just have absolutely no interest in the opposite sex, either in human or Divine form.
So far, so good, right?
Well, here's another one for ya--not everyone identifies with the sex they were born with.
Yup. That's right. There are people in male bodies who identify as female, and people in female bodies who identify as male. Transgendered people just don't feel like they were born into the right body. So many of them try to live as the sex they'd rather be--buying appropriate clothing, getting the right haircut, using makeup and other accoutrement as necessary. Some even legally change their names. And those who choose to (and can afford both the cost and the outing to family, friends, and coworkers) can take hormones and get sex-change operations to try to make their bodies match wha tthey feel it should be like, though not everyone can afford it, and some choose not to go through with those changes for various reasons.
TG people generally aren't interested in traditional roles for the sex they were born in. I bet most female-to-male transgendered people (FTM) don't think that the best use for their body, while it still has a uterus, is birthing some guy's baby. And I bet most MTFs aren't thinking of the God when they're invoking the deity that seems most appropriate to them.
So that brings us to...those who are neither male nor female, or who identify as both.
A very small segment of the population is born intersexed, with genetic and physical characteristics of both sexes in varying degrees. Most are raised as one sex or the other, and unfortunately doctors will still "fix" babies whose genitalia isn't "correct"--which, of course, doesn;t really "fix" anything. It doesn't change genetics, or hormones, or other internal markers that may, at a later date, make the person wonder if s/he really is the sex s/e was raised as.
So that's another situation where the male/female dichotomy may not work.
Finally, there are those of us who are born into one sex or the other, but who identify as both or neither. That's my personal situation. Biologically, I'm female--menstruation and all. However, I identify as what I call "genderfluid androgynous". To me, sex and gender are both continuums--sure, I can't change my physical sex, but similarly to TG people, I sometimes identify as male, even though there's nothing in my genetic makeup that says otherwise. In fact, some days I identify as male, some as female, but the majority of the time I identify as both simultaneously. I dress and act accordingly, and when I'm having a "male day", I prefer to be known as "Lupus" and to use male pronouns to refer to myself, though I understand when people don't, if they don't know better--andf I usually default to the female names and pronouns just to avoid everyday confusion. I dislike it when people assume that just because I have a uterus, that I should always want to be a woman and nothing but a woman--to include the "highest honor--childbirth!"
There are also genderqueer people, those who may or may not identify with their given sex, but who deliberately give off mixed signals, often as a social or political statement (though not always) .
And now that we've explored the many possibilities outside of the male/female dichotomy, I want to make my point clear.
Paganism is made up of a whole bunch of people from diverse backgrounds and with many different identities. Some of us just aren't happy with the God/Goddess split. We may or may not really see the fertility aspects of paganism as all that important, or we may transfer them on to other means of creation. For instance, there is a substantial number of childfree pagans--those who have chosen not to have children for whatever reason. And, of course, there are those who CAN'T have children, even if they want to. "Fertility", to those of us without children, means something very different from having babies. Fertility is the land (and no, it doesn't need to be blessed in the traditional, heterosexual manner) . Fertility is artwork and writing and music and other acts of inspiration. Fertility is magic, manifesting desire into reality. Fertility is not just heterosexual and cisgendered.
So it's good that we are talking about sex and gender roles in paganism. We shouldn't assume that everyone "thinks the way I do". And, as with so many other issues, there are more than just two sides to this one.
Let's give each other space to be ourselves, shall we? It doesn't matter whether you're a biologically female, female-oriented, ultra-feminine heterosexual with ten kids, or an uber-masculine lesbian who thinks she may be FTM but still sees the Divine as female, or whether you do your best to BE the Union of Opposites. Spirituality isn't about comparing yourself to what others are doing, or passing judgement on them. It's about finding YOUR place in the grand scheme of things, wherever that may be.
 While I haven't read it yet, Raven Kaldera's "Hermaphrodeities" is reportedly an excellent book on paganism and magic that goes beyond duality.
Copyright: Copyright Lupa, 2006 - if you want to pass this around, please give credit and link back to this page . Oh, and send me cookies, please :)